Art and music fight against extremism: President of Cairo Opera

Kadry Al-Haggar
10 Min Read

Magdy Saber, the President of the Cairo Opera House, was the first Egyptian artist to perform in the Cairo Opera, when he participated in the Abu Simbel Ballet with a Japanese troupe.

He has been the main star of the Cairo Ballet and Cairo Opera until 1988. Saber played main roles in different international classical ballets, including Don Quixote, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, Antonio and Cleopatra, Giselle, and The Pirate. He also organised many national artistic celebrations and festivals inside and outside Egypt. Saber works on turning the Opera House into a cultural beacon.

Daily News Egypt interviewed Saber to learn about the Opera House’s preparations for Ramadan, the upcoming Arab Music Festival, and other international and Egyptian shows.



What are the activities of the Cairo Opera during Ramadan?

Cairo Opera hosts many artistic and cultural events during Ramadan, whether in Cairo, Alexandria, and Damanhur theatres. We also currently celebrate the announcement of Cairo as the capital of culture in the Islamic world, in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO).

We will host 49 concerts during Ramadan, presenting distinguished musical evenings with a spiritual and religious nature. The concerts will be performed by young artistic bands from Arab and Islamic countries, in parallel with the Opera’s artistic programme.

Five concerts will be held at the Nafoura Theatre in Cairo by renowned Egyptian singers Medhat Saleh and Ali El-Haggar, Egyptian maestro Amr Selim, Syrian singers Tariq Al-Arabi Tarkan and Lena Chamamyan, Tunisian singer Ghalia Benali, Egyptian marimba player Nesma Abdel Aziz, Jordanian singer Makadi Nahas, the Umm Kulthum Arab Music Ensemble led by Maestro Mohamed Abdel Sattar, Egyptian chanters Sheikh Yassin Al-Tohamy and Marco Mamdouh, and drummer Tim.

As for the Small Theatre, six Ramadan nights will be held during the holy month, presenting folk music from Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen, Indonesia, and Palestine, as well as a cultural event.

The theatre of the Institute of Arab Music will host four concerts by the Wanes Troupe, the Coptic Praise Ensemble led by Maestro Diaa Sabry, Tunisian Maleha, and the Rawaa El Nagham Ensemble led by singer Reem Kamal.

The Alexandria Opera Theatre will witness three concerts by Tunisian Ghalia Benali, Jordanian Makadi Nahas, and the Hadra Ensemble for Sufi chanting.

There will be two concerts by the Abdel Halim Nouira Band for Arab Music, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, and the Talent Development Center, in addition to two concerts by the Arab National Music Ensemble, two concerts by the Religious Chanting Ensemble, the Arab Heritage Music Ensemble, the Alexandria Opera Orchestra, and three concerts by the Alexandria Opera Band for Music and Singing, Kulthumiat, and Wahhabiat.


Will the Cairo Opera abide by precautionary measures against the Coronavirus in these concerts?

All the concerts will be held at open-door theatres, surrounded by fences, with separate sterilization gates for entry and exit, to ensure smooth movement. The audience must adhere to the precautionary measures, such as wearing face masks, with their temperature being measured at the gates.

Minister of Culture Inas Abdel Dayem inspected the Cairo Opera’s preparations for Ramadan.


Will the Ministry of Health help the Cairo Opera implement these measures?

We always adhere to all the measures related to the pandemic, imposed by relevant ministries, whether health, environment, or interior. We cooperate with the Ministry of Health in conducting PCR tests for the foreign audience who visits the Opera directly after their arrival or before leaving, for reduced prices.


What is the goal of these Ramadan celebrations?

These events aim to enrich the cultural scene in the first place, so the tickets are moderately priced for all categories.


How was the turnout in these concerts?

The level of turnout is the most prominent factor in the success of concerts, and most of our concerts were sold out. The audience also praised the organization, decoration, lighting, and the reliance on youth in the events.


The Cairo Opera has a talent development centre. Has it presented new talents yet?

Since I have assumed the presidency of the Opera, I always support the youth. In every concert in all our theatres, we present two young talents, who were well received by the audience. This approach I learned from the Minister of Culture.


How is the Oasis of Culture project coming along?

The Oasis of Culture will be opened soon. It has a large theatre that accommodates 1,200 seats, in addition to training centres for ballet, orchestras, and Arab music bands, in addition to dressing rooms.


How did you see the last edition of the Arab Music Festival? How do you prepare for the next edition?

It was one of the most successful editions in the history of the Festival. It boasted a distinguished programme that provided comprehensive musical events.

As for the next edition, we are currently working with concerned officials and its preparatory committee to set the new programme. During the coming period, we will present a draft programme of the festival to the Minister of Culture for approval.


Will the Cairo Opera increase its ticket prices in the coming period?

Yes, ticket prices will be raised slightly in some concerts. Our goal is to attract the largest possible number of young people to distinguished concerts and cultural events, and for this reason, we organize the Castle Festival every year for free.


Why were most of the Cairo Opera’s concerts performed by Egyptian singers this year?

Because the Opera’s budget cannot afford to host Arab singers on a regular basis, except in festivals and special occasions, because they have independent budgets.


Why did the amount of concerts by foreign musicians, orchestras, and ballet troupes decrease recently?

The rate of pay for foreign live performers starts from $1,000 per concert. The Opera cannot afford that all the time. At the present time, we have 15 foreigners in the Cairo Orchestra, which consists of a total of 70 musicians, and we try to pay them well within the limits of our budget, without any prejudice to their rights and their Egyptian colleagues’.

Despite the circumstances of Covid-19, we hosted very distinguished foreign bands. For example, the Balshawi stars, not the entire band, performed at the Cairo Opera. They presented their most important and most beautiful shows, as well as the Tango Stars and Saint Petersburg band, in addition to many foreign bands through protocols with their countries’ embassies.

We also present on the first Saturday of every month, the Metropolitan Show, which is a live show of the American Metropolitan Opera, in addition to performances by troupes from China, South Korea, and India. There are also cultural events that include public figures in Cairo, Alexandria, and Damanhur.


Do you think that the Opera is limited to a certain audience?

Some believe so, but the opera proved them wrong, as all categories of people attend our shows, such as in the Citadel Festival which witnesses higher turnout every year from ordinary people and in various ages.


How did the Saudi audience see the Cairo Opera concerts in Riyadh?

We organized more than one concert in Riyadh, and we were surprised with the positive reception from the Saudi and Arab audience of the songs of Umm Kulthum.


Do you think music and art can fight against extremism and terrorism?

I believe that art and music can refine souls and fight against all types of extremism and terrorism.

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